TUBE, DRAFT 1, CHAPTER 21. IN THE TUNNEL (EXCERPT)
“Olesya! Where are you going?”
She impatiently waved Mitya away, stepping with brisk allegro steps, as though she approached a dance partner, arms outstretched, curved, head high, neck long. Another step, and she would round the locomotive, dusky grey in the darkness. Her eyes adjusted, she could see the contours of the flat iron disk wheels, the springs of the chassis, the plow blade, bent and dented from clearing off rocks, and finally, finally...
The face. His face.
Olesya stretched out her hand. Touched it. The red stripe, chipped paint, peeling. Warm. The metal was warm, and from within the fog lights blinked dull glow. She tore her hand away. A low grumble and a hiss of air from underneath, blasting her feet with a rivulet of steam.
Olesya smiled, pressed her hand to the mangled bent hide of steel, tracing her fingers along the ridges and jagged hole edges.
“Papa?” She waited a beat. It seemed to her that the train waited for her to continue, unsure how to react, like a wild beast that’s been approached by an unknown entity and needs time to categorize it into friend or foe or food.
“Papa, are you hurting? Hurting bad?” A sticky slippery spot. Her fingers slid on it. Olesya pulled her hand away, studying the glistening stain, rubbed the pads of her fingers in circles and sniffed them.
Iron. And machine oil. And something else, tangy.
“Olesya!” Echoed Mitya’s voice. “Come back!”
She ignored him, annoyed at this interruption. A sense of connection stirred in her chest, an understanding, a bridge between her mind and the mind of the train, whether it was her dead father or not. It didn’t matter to her at the moment.
It’s listening. It’s listening to me talk, I know it. Maybe it will talk back. Maybe it will say something besides just “dance.” If only Mitya left us alone. He’s such a pest sometimes.
She inched her hand to one of the lights, a spiky stellated hole in the middle where the glass broke. The rims sharp, bespattered with—
“Blood. Is this your blood? I’m sorry.” She stroked it absentmindedly. The machine quivered slightly, passing the tremor into Olesya’s body. She started shaking, both from the cold and the sudden overwhelming compassion. “I don’t know who you are, you won’t tell me. I guess you have your reasons.” And the she added, quickly, before fear took a hold of her.
Clicks inside the engine, much like the pinging noises hot metal makes when cooling.
“I’m sorry I asked. It doesn’t matter. I know enough. I know that you’re in pain, and I’m sorry...” She felt a tear fall on her cheek and trace a timid line down, as if ashamed of its unbidden appearance.
(Painting by Henrik Uldalen.)